Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: Homeless Bird

Title: Homeless Bird
Author: Gloria Whelan
Release Date: 2000
Genre: children's fiction, India, cultural fiction
My Rating: *
Official Rating: children's fiction
Age Group:14+

Summary: Koly's family is poor, and as soon as she's of marriageable age, her wedding is arranged with a young man she's never met. Koly is thirteen and hungry for knowledge.
But her wedding doesn't go as she'd hoped, and Koly finds herself nearly alone in the world, a young woman now seen as unfit for marriage but without any support and no way of getting back home to her family. When Koly finds herself out on the streets in a huge world full of both good and bad people, how will she survive?

Word of Warning
  • Child-marriages, so to speak. These are arranged, as tradition requires
  • As for marriage itself, it seems to be understood more as a social contract and less of a union of man and wife. What I mean by this is that Koly, until she is much older, never even sees the intimate and sexual side of marriage, nor does it even get mentioned. Even later, when she is older, it's not mentioned explicitly, but simply assumed with a sense of innocence.
  • Young women are essentially sold into marriages.
  • Widows are abandoned, no longer useful since they have no husbands, and really just a hindrance to whomever they are living with.
  • Characters drink and do drugs (but not in those words).
  • Koly is essentially abused by her stepmother. She's yelled at and barely cared for.
  • A man tries to trick Koly into coming home with him. It's implied, though never stated outright, that he intends to take advantage of her sexually.
  • Lying, cheating, stealing, abandonment, anger, cruelty, tough situations, etc. We see it all.

My Thoughts
The book was interesting, but it felt too simplistic to really take on such a big topic. I understand that it's Children's Fiction, and the author is trying to convey something very serious and big to a young audience. The problem is, can that audience truly understand the topic at hand? And I don't mean do they understand what it means to "sell" a young woman into marriage. They might be able to understand that factually. But can they really know what it means, what it entails, down to the depths of a soul.
No, I'd argue, they can't.
Does it mean we shouldn't try to explain it anyway? I'm not sure. I think it depends on the topic and the person.
But that's the source of my gripe with this book. It took something too big, too deep, and it tried to cut it down for a young audience. In the act of cutting it down, it destroyed the very mission it was seeking to accomplish: spreading understanding of the lives of young women in India.

It was a fine book. The writing was fine, the story-line was a bit on the wandering side, and the characters were okay, but not great. Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot wrong with the book itself, aside from it not being great.

But adding that to the issue with the content and topic, and, well, you get something that sort of fell flat.


grandma jane said...

Having reading your review here, I can't imagine taking the time to read this one.
And I agree from your lists that it would seem to suit an older audience.

Actually I wondered about the title --it felt odd to me, more Asian than something from the culture of India. Guessing there must have been a reference to a bird in there somewhere.

Maria Gianna said...

The title references a book of poetry the girl is very attached to. It's actually kind of poetic (pun NOT intended).

You know, I was speaking with Stacy (the other blog author) this weekend, and she actually grew up really liking this book. So, just a different perspective. Given the chance, I'd love to post a review from her too to contrast the two, but at the moment she is rather busy. Still, maybe I gave it too hard of a rap.

Either way, I still think the writing style and the topic and audience were all at a mismatch of sorts.

thanks for continuing to read!